WATCH: Changes to the Canadian Citizenship Act have been met with strong public criticism, including a petition against the reforms.
CALGARY – Wednesday marked the first Canada Day to be celebrated with new rules under the country’s citizenship act, thanks to the passing of a controversial bill that came into effect in May.
The new law has been met with strong public criticism, and two Ontario lawyers have already launched a court case arguing it’s unconstitutional.
A Change.org petition started by Josh Paterson of the BC Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers was created to repeal the changes. It had over 105,410 signatures on Wednesday afternoon.
A Facebook group called Public Protest Against Bill C-24 had more than 2,100 members, and the bill was also a topic causing outrage on Twitter on Wednesday.
Bill C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, caused several changes to the act, including an increase in the amount of time applicants must live in Canada (four out of six years versus three out of four years). They will also need to be physically present in Canada for 183 days each year for at least four of those six years.
In addition, applicants can no longer count time spent as a non-permanent resident toward residence for citizenship, and they must prove they “intend to reside” in Canada. Applicants must now file Canadian income taxes to be eligible for citizenship.
Calgary Immigration lawyer Raj Sharma said the new law makes Canadian citizenship harder to get and easier to lose.
“What is problematic about this bill is it creates two tiers or maybe even three tiers of Canadian citizenship [with] massive amounts of discretion to the minister,” he said.
While the residency requirements have increased, the government says its new laws will speed up processing times for citizenship applications. It plans to reduce its current decision-making process from three steps to one, as suggested in the below infographic:
The changes also bar people with foreign criminal charges and convictions from getting citizenship; in the past, the law only barred citizenship for those with certain domestic criminal charges and convictions.
The federal government will now have the power to revoke the citizenship of some Canadians convicted of terrorism, treason or espionage, whereas in the past, citizenship couldn’t be revoked for acts “against Canada’s national interest.”
The Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration says there are several serious crimes that could result in dual citizens losing their Canadian status, such as those found guilty of terrorism, treason and high treason, and spying for a foreign government.
Sharma cited the example of Mohamed Fahmy, a journalist and dual citizen who’s been convicted by a court in Egypt and sentenced to more than five years.
“The law as it is could strip someone who is not a terrorist—like Mohamed Fahmy—of his Canadian citizenship, because some court in some other country has said that he’s a terrorist.”
The rules would also apply to dual citizens who take up arms against Canada by fighting in a foreign army or joining an international terrorist organization.
Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification and Calgary MP Michelle Rempel said some of the changes are to “clarify the requirements for being a Canadian citizen,” since the government has welcomed 1.3 million new Canadians since 2006.
“We talked about this in Parliament and we talked today in this (citizenship) ceremony about some of the rights and privileges that are part of Canadian citizenship, but as well the responsibilities that citizens have in the country, and one of those is upholding the shared set of Canadian values that we have,” said Rempel.
“Certainly everything that our men and women in the armed forces have fought for the last several year—that our country is built on—we want to ensure that people who are coming into this country respect those values, as well.”
The government is calling the overhaul the first comprehensive reform to the Citizenship Act since 1977.
With files from Global’s Heather Yourex and The Canadian Press
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